Offseason In Review: Phoenix Suns

November 19 2013 at 6:58pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Trades

Draft Picks

  • Alex Len (Round 1, 5th overall). Signed via rookie exception.
  • Archie Goodwin (Round 1, 29th overall). Signed via rookie exception.
  • Alex Oriakhi (Round 2, 57th overall). Playing overseas.

Camp Invitees

  • James Nunnally

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Just call him Trader Ryan. New Suns GM Ryan McDonough aggressively used the trade market to set the club’s sights on the future, somehow managing to turn spare parts from a roster that finished with just 25 wins last season into two potential 2014 first-round picks and an intriguing young point guard. That’s on top of protected first-rounders for 2014 and 2015 coming their way from previous trades and Phoenix’s own picks. The Suns could have as many as six first-round picks in the next two drafts, including four for the ballyhooed 2014 class. All of it represents a tantalizing opportunity for the franchise to return to title contention within a few years, but the most significant change McDonough has brought about so far is a sharp focus on the future at the cost of wins in the near-term. The relative safety of the first-year honeymoon for a new executive no doubt plays a role in his willingness for the team to take its lumps this season. Still, predecessor Lance Blanks never seemed to fully embrace rebuilding as he tried to squeeze as much as he could out of an aging Steve Nash before last season’s effort to remain competitive without the two-time MVP fell flat.

“Future” is the keyword for the team, even as the Suns reconnected with a part of their past in hiring Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek as head coach, replacing interim boss Lindsey Hunter. Hornacek had the misfortune of seeing his six-year playing tenure with the Suns end with a trade to the Sixers for Charles Barkley just before the franchise’s most successful season, but two decades later, he’s probably much more content with Phoenix’s trades this time around. The talent that exited wasn’t likely to help Hornacek win much this year, and with the promise of better days ahead and a front office that seems content to sacrifice the present, there’s not much pressure on the first-year coach for now.

The opposite is true for the team’s new point guard. The team and Eric Bledsoe failed to reach an agreement on a rookie scale contract extension before the October 31st deadline, setting him up for restricted free agency next summer. Bledsoe has never been a full-time starter in the NBA, and that surely weighed heavily on the team as it decided to pass on the extension. Bledsoe must prove that he’s capable of sustaining impressive per-minute numbers, which included leading all NBA guards in blocks per minute last season, per Basketball-Reference. He also finished fifth among guards in steals per minute in 2012/13, and while both rates are down to start this season, his offensive efficiency is way up, as he’s averaging more than 20 points and nearly seven assists with a 23.9 PER. It’s something of a double-edged sword for the Suns, who may rue the chance to lock Bledsoe up at a discount if he proves capable of producing at both ends, but Phoenix nonetheless has the ability to match any other team’s offer and plenty of cap space next summer. Waiting on a new contract for the 23-year-old seems a worthwhile gamble, and the price of Jared Dudley and a second-round draft pick that the team paid to acquire him from the Clippers seems a pittance.

McDonough and the Suns made the cost of bringing Bledsoe aboard seem even lower once they shipped Caron Butler’s $8MM contract off in another trade to a Bucks team that, like the Suns in 2012, is intent on rebuilding and remaining competitive at the same time. Neither Viacheslav Kravtsov nor Ish Smith may be of much benefit to the Suns, but the more than $5.5MM difference between their combined salaries and what Butler is making gave the Suns a savings that makes up for the majority of the rest of Michael Beasley’s contract. Thus, the Suns saw fit to part with one of their mistakes from 2012’s ill-fated attempt to compete and a player who once more ran afoul of the law this past summer. They waived Beasley, convincing him to give up $2MM of his guaranteed $9MM, and used the stretch provision to spread the remaining $7MM over four seasons. Beasley will remain a slight hit on the team’s books through 2016/17, but perhaps most importantly, the Suns excised a player they felt had failed to live up to their “standards of personal and professional conduct.”

Luis Scola engendered no such rebukes as he left Phoenix, and the Suns turned the player they claimed off amnesty waivers in 2012 into new starting center Miles Plumlee, a once-again useful wing player in Gerald Green, and one of its store of 2014 first-round picks. The selection the Suns picked up in this trade with Indiana might be the least valuable first-rounder in the team’s stable, since Scola figures to help the Pacers pile up wins this year, so Plumlee might be the gem of the deal for Phoenix. He’s one year removed from having been the 26th overall pick in 2012, and after the first nine starts of his career, he’s sixth in the league in blocks per game and 15th in rebounds per contest this season. The excitement over his ability greased the skids for the latest of McDonough’s swaps, as he sent Marcin Gortat, last year’s starting center, to Washington for yet another 2014 first-round pick and the injured Emeka Okafor.

Trading a serviceable starting center for a draft pick and a player on an expiring deal who might not be healthy enough to play at all this season would have been anathema under Blanks. Yet it’s a quintessential McDonough move that frees up playing time for a promising young player, doesn’t involve a significant financial commitment, and allows for the distinct possibility that the Suns may have multiple lottery picks among their haul of 2014 first-rounders. If the Wizards miss the playoffs but only narrowly so, the Suns could wind up with that lottery pick in addition to their own, which seems destined to be a lottery selection despite Phoenix’s on-court success early this season. There’s even a chance the Suns could have three lottery picks, though their pick from a previous trade with the Timberwolves would have to fall precisely at No. 14 for that to happen.

There’s so much talk of the draft picks coming Phoenix’s way that it’s easy to forget that the Suns already have the No. 5 selection from this past June’s draft. Injury has limited Alex Len to just 21 minutes so far in his NBA career, but he drew mention as a possible No. 1 overall pick before left ankle surgery knocked him out of predraft workouts. The former Maryland Terrapin is a raw talent, but a year ago he was putting up 23 points and 12 rebounds in a game against reputed defensive whiz Nerlens Noel, an even stronger candidate for the No. 1 overall spot in spite of his own injury. The Suns could face a dilemma if Plumlee sustains his performance and Len comes back to fulfill his potential, but having two promising young centers is a much more desirable problem than having none, and McDonough has already proven a willing and creative orchestrator of trades.

So much of what McDonough has done has seemingly been aimed at undoing what Blanks did last year. The use of the 13th overall pick in 2012 on Kendall Marshall was another of the ex-GM’s moves that went bust, and McDonough offloaded the point guard in the Gortat trade while using one of his other swaps to find a more successful young point guard in Bledsoe to replace him. The contrast between McDonough and Blanks shows up even in the methods they used to make their transactions. McDonough only signed one player who remains on the roster, in contrast to his five trades. Blanks wasn’t averse to a swap, making a pair in the summer of 2012, but he signed seven free agents for the team’s 2012/13 opening-night roster. Goran Dragic is the only one of those seven who remains, and executives from other teams suspect he’ll be the next player McDonough trades away. Trades are fun, but they’re not nearly as enjoyable for Suns fans as playoff victories are. McDonough has set the team up for the opportunity to once more have a winning team in a few years, but he’ll have to prove as skilled at the draft as he is at trades for that on-court success to come about.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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